The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America experienced a total loss of more than 700 out of its 9,533 congregations resulting from its 2009 decision to ordain gays and lesbians, with the local environment being a significant factor in determining which churches leave or stay with the denomination. Wayne Thompson of Carthage College presented the most up-to-date figures on churches departing the denomination in a paper presented at the August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) in New York, which RW
Thompson said that since the 1970s, Lutherans had become more tolerant—and at a faster rate—of homosexuality than Americans as a whole. Thompson found that the “conservative moral ecology”of the region in which a congregation is located and clergy social networks (if their contacts existed outside of the ELCA or not) made a difference in decisions to leave the ELCA.
In addition, isolated Lutheran clergy that exist in regions such as southwest Texas and Montana was a factor in clergy and congregations leaving the ELCA. The influence of regional bishops also made a difference in whether a congregation departed—some local bishops have made it easier to leave and supported congregational decisions.
Most of the congregations that left have joined the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a decentralized association of churches often of Scandinavian background, (with 300,000 members) or the North American Lutheran Church, a more hierarchical body that has drawn many German members in Pennsylvania and Ohio (with 120,000-150,000 members). Aside from recent departures over the 2013 election of a gay bishop, Thompson concludes that the new Lutheran denominations are unlikely to grow much larger, leaving the ELCA with a membership of about 4.5 million.